Looking for Clues to the Origins of the Universe

Ray Jayawardhana combs
Antartica for meteorites
on a snowmobile.
Photos courtesy Ray Jayawardhana

Astrophysicist Ray Jayawardhana will be at the Houston Museum of Natural Science this Thursday, April 7 giving a lively talk on the latest research in extrasolar planets and an update on the search for alien life and planets.

He will also be signing copies of his new book Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System, which offers an insider’s look at the cutting-edge science of today’s planet hunters, the prospects for discovering alien life, and the debate and controversies at the forefront of extrasolar-planet research.

Ray recently returned from the frigid ice of Antarctica where he went to look for meteorites—and he found them.

Meteorite found in Antartica
Photos courtesy Ray Jayawardhana

“Meteorites provide clues, they are leftover debris from our own solar system’s birth. Studying them is complimentary to what I do. But I’m not used to coming so close – within six inches – of the things I study.”
—Ray Jayawardhana, Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics at University of Toronto.

Click here to hear more about Dr. Jayawardhana’s adventures in Antarctica and what he found in the ice. Make sure to check out his lecture on Strange New Worlds tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m.

Ice Planet: Earth

There has been much discussion and confusion about global climate change. With an upcoming lecture and planetarium show on the topic, you have an opportunity to discover the facts and whether or not you should be concerned about the climate. This month we invite you to learn more about ice and glaciers, and the effect these have on our planet.

Ice Planet: Earth

On Wednesday, May 26 at 6:30 p.m. Dr. Mark Fahnstock will discuss the changes of our planet’s ice cover, specifically how it has changed over the past year, decade, and century. Dr. Fahnstock, who studies the glaciers of Greenland and the Antarctic, explains his research to the public. Don’t miss his lecture and the chance to learn more about global warming and our planet’s weather.

Ice Worlds

If you are interested in global climate change, the Poles are the place to watch because changes there can have a dramatic effect on the whole planet. When ice turns to water, it changes from a reflector to an absorber of solar radiation. When water turns to water vapor, it becomes a powerful greenhouse gas. When water vapor forms clouds, it becomes a reflector once again.

In 2007-2009, countries around the world celebrated the International Polar Year with expanded funding for research on Earth’s changing poles. On Memorial Day weekend, the Burke Baker Planetarium opens a new Ice Worlds show featuring what has been learned about the Arctic and Antarctic in the past two years.

Understanding the role of ice on our world is the first step in understanding how water amplifies any climate change. Ice Worlds is a beautiful show, including ice imagery from Earth’s poles and from the different ice-covered worlds in our solar system.

Sizzlin’ Cool: Fun Facts for Summer

Some folks on our fine planet are thermally challenged at the moment, donning jackets to venture out of their homes. We, on the other hand, melt when we step outside and feel the sun’s merciless wrath. In desperate need of a distraction, I compiled a list of fun facts about all things hot and cold. Enjoy!

Jiminy Cricket
Creative Commons License photo credit: azrainman

*A cricket’s chirp frequency fluctuates with temperature. What does this mean? You can tell the temperature (in Fahrenheit) by counting the number of times a cricket chirps in 15 seconds. Just add 37 to whatever number you reach and BAM you have an approximate outside temp!

*In New York in 1988, the temperature hovered above 90°F for 32 days. In that time, the murder rate increased by 75%! (Maybe someone should’ve opened an ice cream shop up there…)

*There really aren’t negative temperatures. We only use them because we convert from Kelvin (K) to degrees Celsius (C°) and Fahrenheit (F°). 0 K is absolute zero, the coldest anything can be anywhere in the universe, which equals -460°F. The coldest science has come to this on Earth is just below -459.99999°F. (If you want to learn why we just can’t quite seem to reach absolute zero, try reading up on infinite smallness.)

Antarctica: Castle Rock Adventure
Creative Commons License photo credit: elisfanclub

*Snow made using snow-making equipment is absolutely natural! The difference is mainly the suspension time in the air. Flakes that fall from clouds float for around 3 to 5 minutes. Their man-made counterparts last only 2 to 15 seconds in the air.

*The highest recorded temperature at the South Pole is 7°F.

Now for the mind blowing-est, coldest, hottest thing you can think of…

*One of the loftiest volcanoes in the world is surrounded by ice on the coldest continent, Antarctica!!! Mount Erebus is less than 900 miles from the South Pole, but is has been continuously active since 1972.